Fulfilling Lives aims to make services work better for people with multiple and complex needs, which means people negatively affected by any two of these issues: homelessness, re-offending, substance misuse, and enduring problems with mental health. The Project works on two levels: an immediate level, working directly with the people who are most in need of help right now, and on a lasting level – changing systems to enable people with multiple and complex needs to receive the right support, at the right time.
I spoke to two women volunteering at Fulfilling Lives as members of Action Groups who meet weekly to explore gaps and barriers in local services for people with multiple and complex needs. Volunteers also attend steering groups, visit services and go out in the community to gather information for their projects.
This is what they had to say about their experience.
They wished to remain anonymous, as such; I have referred to them as A and B.
Briefly tell me about your experience before joining as volunteer:
A) I come in from the mental health perspective. I have long term issues with depression, anxiety and PTSD. So that’s the ‘angle’ that I come from.
B) I have much the same, problems with depression and anxiety. I also have physical health problems and problems with substance addiction in the past. All this left me very isolated-being here really helps with that.
How long have you been volunteering?
A) I have been here about 5 months and I found out about the role by picking up a leaflet at a local community centre and thought that looked interesting. They are a great bunch of people here, very open, very welcoming. We are quite bonded. It’s quite a comforting place to be as we all support each other.
B) I have been here around 8 months and found out through Homeworks. Since volunteering I don’t feel so lonely with the problems that I’ve had in life.
A) I think we are both quite passionate about bringing some sort of change to the service.
Do you feel supported?
A) The group are very friendly and our mentors are very approachable. A member of staff is a mentor to each volunteer. Although we are all assigned our own mentor I would feel quite happy to approach another staff member in their absence.
The role does bring up challenges. Because we are thinking and reflecting a lot on our own journeys it can bring up stuff that we may not have dealt with, so it’s great to have mentors. Although I’ve had extensive counselling in the past there have been some issues that have come up that I’ve not dealt with. This is why having a mentor is so important. We did an exercise on stigma and that bought up some quite shocking realisations of situations where I have been stigmatised.
Would you recommend others to volunteer here?
A) Yes without a doubt, but they do need to be aware that it may draw up certain issues but that is part of the process but we are all here to bring about some sort of change.
B) Also it meant to be a stepping stone into long term employment.
A) There has just been a package of ‘in house’ training courses put together; such as professional boundaries and confidentiality, safeguarding for volunteers, consultation with service users, dealing with difficult and aggressive situations, communication skills, group work skills, IT skills, developing confidence, First Aid, job seeking skills and transitioning into employment.
B) I’ve found with my own situation that I became very isolated. As a volunteer I am able to socialise which has been very helpful for my self-esteem and a big step for me.
A) I think because this is a place of acceptance it breaks down the social barriers that you might find elsewhere.
There is great peer support here and we can be among people who understand our situation.
B) We also do information gathering to find potential gaps and barriers that people may experience when trying to access services and this has really taken off.A) With Universal Credit being rolled out here in Hastings we have been doing some work with this to try and help people affected through this convoluted process. There will always be people with complex needs but if we can work with services and iron out potential problems we hope to make their situation better, not worse.